(The Center Square) – The Illinois High School Association is hoping a new effort will help persuade more people to become officials for prep sporting events.
The organization has launched a series of “Officiating 1-0-1” informative sessions across the state, with initial events in Downs, Mt. Vernon and Quincy.
“‘Officiating 101’ is really simple,” said Sam Knox, assistant executive director at the IHSA. “It answers a lot of questions about how to get started. How do I register? Where do I buy my equipment in my apparel? How do I get games? How much money am I going to make at this?”
According to the organization, there were 13,000 total officials as recently as 2014, but that number has now fallen to below 10,000.
“Simply, without officials, the games don't happen,” Knox said. “Sadly, we've heard more and more this spring that games, especially J.V. baseball and softball, have been flat out canceled and not rescheduled, only because they couldn't find umpires to cover those games.”
Help is needed across all sports, but is particularly acute in a handful of areas, including soccer, wrestling and track and field.
“[We see] baseball and softball games being umpired by one umpire, instead of the traditional two,” Knox said. “Maybe soccer games covered with two or one official as opposed to the traditional three. It's affecting every school in the state, the big suburban schools in Chicago and the little-bitty schools in Western Illinois. They're all feeling the officials crunch.”
The IHSA Officials Department oversees the licensing and testing of Illinois high school officials, who are licensed in 16 different sports. Knox says a variety of factors prevent people from becoming officials.
“Some of them are concerned about sportsmanship, which we are and our schools are, as well,” Know said. “From not only players and coaches, but also parents and fans.”
The rules of economics might suggest raising pay to entice more residents to step forward to assist, but Knox says that’s not a realistic alternative.
“You look at one game and maybe you go from paying officials $75 to now paying them $85 for a varsity basketball game, for example,” Knox said. “If you multiply that out over three officials per game, 10 or 12 home games per season, boys and girls and across all sports, it's going to cost some schools thousands of dollars to raise those fees.”
According to Knox, individual schools set the rate for pay, but often conferences will band together to create a pay structure so schools aren’t competing with each other for help.
“We've had a handful of sessions so far, and the attendance hasn't been fantastic, as we kind of expected,” Knox said. “We had one class with 11 attendees. We had a couple with seven. We had one with four.”
Sessions continue across the state in May and will resume in the fall when school is back in session. More information is available at the IHSA’s website.